House by Tracy Kidder is a novel about family's plan for constructing their first house. The novel articulates the perspectives and sentiments of three groups involved in the house's creation: the customers, the carpenters, and the architect. The setting is in New England, which has a long tradition of carpentry and home building.
Although the novel accurately portrays the process of building a house, the novel is also an analogy for the American dream. Each of the group has their own vision and ideas about building the house. The architect represents the Enlightenment Era, in which aesthetic and grandiose vision of the house is put on a pedestal. The carpenters are more pragmatic and are concerned with capital. The prospective owners have various ideas on how they want the house to be and are worried about budget management.
In a sense, the house can be seen as a modern-day American Tower of Babel, in which various groups try to build it to reach some higher goal, but have too many miscommunication issues to complete the project.
HOUSE is a factual narrative detailing the construction of a moderately expensive single-family house near Amherst, Massachusetts. Tracy Kidder provides considerable detail about the mechanics of construction, but his focus is on the interaction among the architect, the contractors, and the couple building the house. The humor as well as the anxiety involved in the process are clear, but Kidder never descends to the fatuous exaggerations of such previous books on the subject as MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE.
The building of this house involves a continuing series of negotiations among the parties involved. All of them are deeply committed to the success of the project, all of them are conscientious and responsible, all of them give their best efforts. Inevitable difficulties, however, arise. There is faulty communication between architect and builders. There is conflict between the clients’ desire for economy in construction and the builders’ reluctance to use any but the best materials and methods. At the same time, at a crucial point, the builders refuse for their own financial reasons to upgrade the level of materials specified in the contract. Above all, there are the tensions created by the very different personalities and the conflicting interests of the people involved. When the house is at last finished, all parties are pleased with the completed work, but all feel lingering dissatisfactions.
Kidder does a superb job of showing how these interactions affect the process. All of the individuals are presented in depth, so that their actions are clearly understandable. The major achievement of the book is to show that mutual good will, craftsmanship, conscientiousness, and a common goal can result in a successful cooperative endeavor, despite differences in personalities and ideas.
Tracy Kidder has already won a Pulitzer Prize for an earlier book, The Soul of a New Machine (1982). A new prize will have to be invented to recognize the greater achievement of House, a fascinating multilevel account of that most fundamental and most complex of human activities, the construction of a family’s dwelling.
House opens with a surveyor marking the site for a house to be built for Jonathan and Judith Souweine near Amherst, Massachusetts. It closes with an epilogue noting that the design for the house has won for its architect, William Rawn, a prestigious prize from the Boston Society of Architects, and that both Souweines and Jim Locke, one of the builders, were present at the awards ceremony. Between these events, Kidder tells the complex and surprisingly suspenseful story of exactly what goes into the building of a house: the materials, the hard work, the ideas, the conflicts, the money.
There is considerable factual detail in House: A two-story house of average size will require seventy-five thousand nails; the notation “S Dry S4S” on a piece of spruce balsam fir means that it is “surface dry” (less than...
(The entire section is 2,457 words.)